Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : September 19, 
2020 
| 4 Sources



If you begin to notice the physical signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to seek help.



Heavy use of alcohol is known to have a serious impact on our bodies. It can also impact our mental health. When we think about the physical impacts alcohol can have, many of the conditions we think of are not visible. For further information on how alcohol abuse can impact our health, please follow the link

Perhaps the best known physical symptom of alcoholism is the tremor known as delirium tremens, which sometimes affects only the hands but other times affects the whole body. There are many other physical signs and symptoms of alcoholism, however.

Common Physical Signs of Alcoholism

There are some common signs of alcoholism you might notice when you look at someone else that has a serious drinking problem, including:

  • Trembling hands (this common symptom of alcoholism is called delirium tremens and usually occurs when someone begins to withdraw from alcohol)
  • Full body tremors
  • Yellowish skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes (a sign of liver damage called jaundice)
  • Pale skin (a result of iron deficiency, sometimes referred to as anemia, common in alcoholics)
  • Restlessness, difficulty sitting still
  • Seizures (get medical help immediately if you or a loved one has a seizure and you aren’t sure of the cause or think it may be alcohol-induced)
  • Alcohol poisoning which requires immediate medical attention





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Other Physical Symptoms

You can’t see every physical symptom of alcoholism just by looking at someone, though.  Some other symptoms can be detected by simple medical tests, like these:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin B1 (thiamine deficiency), and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies (detected with simple blood tests)
  • Liver problems such as Fibrosis and a fatty liver (often can be detected by simple blood tests)
  • High blood pressure (checked with an easy-to-use device called a sphygmomanometer; you don’t even need to see a doctor for this test, since many pharmacies have sphygmomanometers available for patients to check their blood pressure in the store and you can also purchase one at a reasonable cost for use at home)
  • Irregular heartbeat (often can be detected simply by taking your pulse)
  • High blood sugar in diabetics (this can be tested at home with a glucometer, an easy-to-use device most diabetics already own)
  • A variety of heart conditions such as Cardiomyopathy and Arrhythmias
  • Pancreas damage
  • Drinking can decrease our immune systems ability to protect us
  • Can increase our risk of some cancers such as Esophageal cancer and Breast Cancer
  • Long term and short term memory difficulties
  • Learning difficulties

Still other physical symptoms of alcoholism, like ulcers, nerve damage, and changes in the structure of the brain (leading to dementia and serious psychological problems) require more complicated medical tests to diagnose.

A doctor can evaluate any symptoms you have and determine if further tests are needed. For example, if you have symptoms that suggest an ulcer, a doctor might recommend an endoscopy, a procedure in which a tiny camera is used to inspect the inside of your throat, stomach, and the upper portion of your small intestine.

If you are worried about any signs that you have noticed within yourself, the next step would be to contact your Medical Provider.

If You Notice Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

If you notice physical signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved you, an evaluation by a physician is in order. A diagnosis of alcoholism isn’t made on the basis of one physical symptom of alcoholism; it’s made on the basis of how alcohol affects a person, whether or not it’s causing problems in his life and whether or not he is able to stop drinking if he wants to.

Alcohol Use Disorder is the clinical wording for an official diagnosis and is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This is a tool used by both Medical and Mental Health providers to assess and diagnosis a variety of mental health disorders and concerns.

The diagnosis for Alcohol Use Disorder has 11 criteria options that the individual may relate to. Depending on how many the individual relates to, there will be a specifier (mild, moderate or severe) when using a clinical diagnosis.

It is important to note that specialized training and education is required to give someone a mental health diagnosis. This means that without the proper background, we are not able to diagnosis our selves or anyone else with a clinical disorder. This is different than choosing to identify as an alcoholic. 

A doctor will, however, determine if the symptoms you’re experiencing are in fact related to alcohol use or abuse and recommend the appropriate treatment. It is important to be open and honest with your doctor about how much you drink, how often you drink, how long you have been drinking as well as the concerns you may have. All information is needed to make sure that you get the best possible care.

Treatment for physical symptoms related to alcoholism will include symptom-specific treatment; for instance, treatment for iron deficiency will include taking iron supplements and treatment for high blood pressure may include both medication and dietary changes.

However, you’ll also need to stop drinking if your alcohol use has caused medical problems like these. Your doctor can probably refer you to a treatment center for alcoholics where you can get the help you need to stop drinking. If your doctor doesn’t offer a referral, ask for one.


Treatment Options for Alcoholism

As mentioned above, your doctor may recommend that you enroll in treatment for your alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is viewed as a Mental Health Concern which means that there is more to it than just not drinking. 

This would explain why many alcoholics who try to stop drinking cold turkey, or on their own, struggle to maintain sobriety. There is usually more to drinking than just alcohol.

Depending on the severity of your alcoholism, there are several levels of care that your doctor could recommend. 

Detoxification would be appropriate if there are concerns about withdrawal such as DT’s and seizures. Inpatient treatment occurs in a controlled environment and focuses on providing education about the disease as well as information about a healthy recovery. Outpatient treatment is often recommended for individuals who are able to continue in their work and other responsibilities. For many, a combination of all three is needed to build a solid foundation for recovery. 

For some individuals, medications may be used in additional to behavioral interventions.




Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


Hello!

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More



Sources:  

Effects from alcohol on our bodies: Alcohol's Effects on the Body | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)

How alcohol use effects our health provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC): Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts | CDC

Pamphlet provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism listing criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis:  Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5 (nih.gov)

Further information about treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder: Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help (nih.gov)


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